William Quincy Belle is just a guy. Nobody famous; nobody rich; just some guy who likes to periodically add his two cents worth with the hope, accounting for inflation, that $0.02 is not over-evaluating his contribution. He claims that at the heart of the writing process is some sort of (psychotic) urge to put it down on paper and likes to recite the following which so far he hasn't been able to attribute to anyone: "A writer is an egomaniac with low self-esteem." You will find Mr. Belle's unbridled stream of consciousness here (http://wqebelle.blogspot.ca) or @here (https://twitter.com/wqbelle). (Credit photo: (Wikipedia article, the picture itself))
An Extraordinary Meeting by William Quincy Belle
June opened the door at Starbucks as she glanced at her iPhone. She was twenty minutes early for her meeting downtown and thought she might as well have a tea. There was nothing else to do. She stood in line, put her iPhone back in her handbag, and fished around for her wallet. No sense in waiting; she’d be ready to pay when she got to the cashier. She took out a five-dollar bill and put her wallet back in her bag. She looked around, then realised the man standing in front of her had half turned and was looking at her. She looked at him. She blinked. She looked again. Oh my God! It was her ex-husband.
“Hello June.” Bitch. The man smiled.
“Hello Bobby.” Bastard. She smiled back at him.
Shit, I would have to run into her. “Long time no see.”
Not long enough. “Yes, it’s been what? Eleven years since we popped open the champagne?”
“It will be twelve years next month, the thirteenth to be precise, when you flung my $1,492 Chinese vase at my head.” You goddamn cow.
She grinned. God, I so wanted to hit you in the head. “If you hadn’t ducked, it wouldn’t have smashed against the wall.”
He nodded. Good point. “Yes, I should have caught it. Unfortunately, you startled me and I instinctively got out of the way.” I should have sued your ass off. He sighed. “I really liked that vase.”
“I know.” Maybe you can feel a little of the pain you caused me, you prick. Bobby had made the trip to China when he was twenty years old and had fallen in love with that vase. It had cost him as a student a small fortune to purchase the item and get it shipped back home. Consequently, he had always given it an honoured place in his home as a symbol of his youth.
“What brings you to this neck of the woods?” He raised an eyebrow in a quizzical look. Is she remarried? Is she dating? Has some other poor sucker fallen for her charms?
She hesitated. Fishing for information, is he? “I’m meeting a client at their offices.” Mr. Nosy can fish elsewhere.
A voice behind him said, “Next,” and he turned around to discover they were at the head of the line. He turned back and gestured. “After you,” he said.
“Thank you.” She stepped up to the counter and spoke to the man at the register. “I’ll have a chai tea latte and one of your oatmeal raisin cookies.” She held out the five-dollar bill.
He stood back and looked her up and down. Hmmm, she’s still a good-looking woman. He nodded as if he was agreeing with himself. Oh heck, I always knew she would age well. She was good-looking then, and I figured she’d become more beautiful with time. Hmmm, would I feel better if she got uglier?
He saw the five-dollar bill and stepped forward to put out his hand in between the bill and the cashier who was about to take it. He turned to her. “Would you permit me?” What the hell are you doing?
She still held the bill out as she looked at him. What? I thought Mister Holier Than Thou hated my guts. “That’s kind of you.” She went about putting her money back in her wallet and arranging everything in her purse. Where is this bit of niceness coming from? Is somebody outside flattening my tires as we speak?
He turned to the cashier. “I’ll have a tall of the house blend.” He glanced across the menu board on the wall. “And add another oatmeal raisin cookie to that.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out some bills. He unfolded them and selected a ten.
She watched him pay. He’s older, but he looks more distinguished. Is he still single?
The cashier handed back some change to him and pointed. “If you would go to the side counter, your order will be filled momentarily.”
Bobby took a step back to let June by. “Shall we?”
She nodded and walked to the side counter. He could be a bastard but he always was a gentleman. I liked that.
He stared at her backside. She’s not getting older; she’s getting better. He followed her.
“So, you’re here to see a client. Business is doing well?” He smiled. I wonder if she’s involved.
“Business is fine.” He always had a disarming smile. “And you? Still with the same firm?” He made me feel important, like I was the centre of the universe.
“I moved four years ago. I have a new job and a new life.” Humph. She shows the slightest interest in me and I turn into idiotic teenager. My male ego is being stroked and I love it.
A woman behind the counter put out two cups and two little bags. She pointed to the cup on the right, then the one on the left. “This is the chai tea, and this is the coffee. And you each have an oatmeal raisin.”
June and Bobby picked up their respective cups and cookies. “Thank you,” each of them said to the woman.
He turned around and scanned the room. “How about that table by the window?”
“Looks good.” She walked between the tables toward the window.
“Give me a sec. I want to put milk in my coffee.” He went to the sidebar, removed the lid of his coffee and poured in a little milk. He put the lid back on, picked up a couple of napkins, and headed to the table. June was already seated and had removed the lid to her chai tea.
He put his cup and his cookie on the table, then placed a napkin at his place and one closer to June. He sat down and removed the lid of his coffee.
“Thank you.” She picked up the napkin and placed it in front of her on the table. “You always did that.”
“Did what?” He glanced at her questioningly. She always liked me to pay attention to her.
“You would always remember to get a napkin for me. Or whatever I might have needed.”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. You need a napkin; I get you a napkin.” Play the innocent.
She stopped fiddling with her things and looked at him. “You always thought of others. You thought of me.” He really is kind.
“It’s only a napkin.”
“Yes, it is. But you thought of it. In my experience, not everyone pays attention to the little things. Not everyone pays attention to the other person.” She half smiled at him. I remember what attracted me to him in the first place. She reached out and picked up her cookie. She studied him as she took a bite. Older. Now a little wiser?
“Too bad for those poor schmucks. Half the fun of being a couple is focusing on your partner.” I enjoyed focusing on you.
“It would seem that not every man has learned that lesson.”
“Oh? There have been others after me?” He gave a look of mock surprise. “After the best, what’s the rest?”
She rolled her eyes in feigned derision. He sometimes comes across as arrogant but he always does it with humour. He doesn’t take himself too seriously. I always interpreted that as confidence and who doesn’t like confidence?
He took the lid off his coffee, held up the cup, and took a sip. He glanced at her. “You’re looking good.” You look very good.
“Thank you.” She remained impassive. I like hearing him say that. “You’re not too bad yourself.” I am feeling comfortable with a familiar face.
“Not too bad?” He chortled. “High praise, indeed.” He set down his cup and passed his hands in front of his chest. “The wheels haven’t fallen off the wagon yet.”
“You always were a decent shape.”
He nodded. “I’m not a fitness fanatic but I like to do my part to keep the old bod ticking along.”
“Yep, still trying to fit in a couple, if not three times a week. Of course, will I ever get up the personal resolve to do the marathon? The idea crosses my mind from time to time but I always argue with myself about how much exercise we need to remain healthy as opposed to crossing the line and doing more for a personal goal. There are other things in life.”
“Oh? You seemed to be a bit of a workaholic the last time I saw you.” She gave him a wry look. That, you idiot, was precisely what got out of hand.
Years ago, his career was taking off, and Bobby devoted himself far too much to his work and not enough to his personal life. He had failed to find the proper balance and in the end, June decided she couldn’t play second fiddle to a man with another mistress. Their arguments, their fights had become more frequent and more intense until one day, in a fit of frustration, she flung the Chinese vase at him when he walked in the door late from work after having forgotten their dinner date. She moved out the next day while he was at the office.
“After having spent more than a decade trying to climb the corporate ladder and failing, I discovered the correct course of action was to make a lateral move. I found a new firm, a new job, and a new life. I think I’ve found the balance between my work and my personal life which was missing before.”
She stared at him listening. “You think?”
He smiled. “I wasn’t very nice back then.” He paused then looked June right in the eye. “I wasn’t very nice to you.”
“You think?” She smiled back.
“I really liked that vase.”
“No, I deserved it. I didn’t have any balance in my life, especially in my personal life, and I let my professional ambitions get out of hand. They never should have been the number one priority. I put you second when I should have put you first. I imagine I wasn’t at all easy to live with. For that, I owe you an apology.”
She frowned. Who are you and what have you done with my ex-husband?
He looked away and pursed his lips. “I could go back to China and get another vase.” He grinned. “You would find it fascinating.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Are you asking?” That would be funny.
“I wondered if you’d be married with a house in the suburbs by now.”
“I do have my own career, you know.” Geesh, let’s not be so traditional.
“You were always more than a pretty face.” You are the smartest woman I know.
She felt miffed. “I completed my Masters of Business Administration.”
“That doesn’t surprise me.”
“You were... you are the smartest woman I know.” His expression was serious.
She studied his face. Where’s the sarcasm? She looked in his eyes. Finally she said, “Thank you.” I always liked that he noticed that. He never made me feel inferior because I was a woman. He made me feel like an equal.
Bobby was serious. While the two of them seemed to be intellectual equals both educationally and culturally, Bobby had always suspected that in raw brain power, June could outdo him. If the two of them had to do the SAT or pass a test for Mensa, Bobby was certain June would come out on top. June was an attractive woman, but she had a mind that kept Bobby on his toes. He appreciated her as an intellectual challenge. She was sharp and he could never take her for granted.
“You’re a smart woman. I never had any doubt you would go far.” He smirked. “I guess I never thought you would go so far as to never come back.”
She laughed. “It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.”
“Yes, I agree.” He cleared his throat then sang softly, “Regrets, I’ve had a few...”
“You must be serious if you’re singing Sinatra.” She smiled wryly. “But I noticed that Frank never sang a song which said something like ‘we’ did it our way.”
He nodded. “I’m sure he had his regrets.”
“Of course, that’s what I meant. With age and experience, one gets a different perspective on life and what’s truly important. It’s unfortunate I didn’t discover the secret of having balance in my life sooner. But I was young and foolish.” He chuckled again. “I’m sure some would argue that now I’m older and foolish but maybe, just maybe, I am making headway in that regard.”
“I wanted to set the world on fire. Now I realise that goal is a tad unrealistic and I should be content with setting my corner of the world on fire. That unto itself is a goal.”
“You seem different.”
“Oh? How so?”
“What happened to that driven man who was not going to let anything or anyone stand in his way?”
“I’m mellowing with age?” He smiled. “There are other things in life.”
“I’m sure your wife appreciates that.”
“I’m not married.”
“No? So neither one of us thought that as a priority after getting married the first time?”
“Maybe we’re trying to be more judicious instead of being young and impulsive.”
She gave a chortle. “Yes, impulsive. I’m sure that is an excellent description of our trip down the aisle.”
He grinned. How I enjoy her laugh. We had fun. We had fun together. Thinking about it reminds me that I miss it. I miss her. “Maybe we were too young.”
“Probably. In retrospect I would say we were both missing a degree of maturity. Every day can’t be a whirlwind romance. Sometimes there is the regular boring routine.”
“Possibly. But that doesn’t mean with a little effort the regular boring routine has to be boring. I enjoyed sending you flowers each month to work.”
“Yes, that was very nice. You earned yourself quite the reputation at my place of employment. I still remember that a couple of the girls said their boyfriends or husbands thought you were making them all look bad. Who sends flowers to their wife once a month, every month for years?”
“I got a kick out of it. The flower shop got to know me. When I phoned up, the process of sending flowers had become fairly easy as they knew exactly what to do.”
“What about the money?”
“Who cares? It wasn’t like it cost a fortune. It was the thought that counted and as I said, I enjoyed doing it. It was like the post-it notes.”
She nodded. “Ah yes, the post-it notes.”
When Bobby and June dated, Bobby took to leaving post-it notes in various places and this habit had carried over into their marriage. If he was away on a business trip, he would put one in their bed so she would find it at the end of the evening. Before leaving for work, he would put one up on the bathroom mirror or leave one in the kitchen. Sometimes he wrote nothing more than “xox”, but sometimes he would think of something amusing to say. Whatever the message, he got a kick out of leaving a note so June would know that he was thinking of her.
“See? The regular boring routine doesn’t have to be boring at all.”
“True.” This is the man I wanted. This is the man I want.
He paused looking at her. “I wonder what would have happened if we met now instead of way back then.”
“Good question. Does a mature marriage call for more mature people?” She gestured to him. “Of course, I would be talking strictly about you.”
“Of course, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I was the one who needed more maturity.” He smiled back at her. “Mature people use an overhand throw.”
She looked perplexed then realised he was referring to the vase. She had, in fact, thrown it overhand at him trying to connect with as much force as possible. “Point taken. Sometimes dialogue doesn’t seem enough. Sometimes the situation calls for action.”
“I look back on many aspects of our marriage with fondness.”
“Of course I do. Heck, just because it didn’t last forever doesn’t mean we didn’t have some great moments together.”
She looked thoughtful.
He continued, “You were an important part of my life. You are still an important part of my life. Consider yourself to be influential. All other women are and will be measured in comparison to you.”
“Should I be flattered?”
“Why not? You raised the bar. How is anybody else going to compete?” I’ve never met anyone like her. I’ve never met anyone I would consider committing to. I’ve never remarried because... I’ve never met another June. “After the best, who cares about the rest?”
“I thought that was your line about yourself.”
“I think it’s applicable to you. Maybe it’s applicable to both of us.” He nodded to her. “And what about you?” He leaned over the table and took one of her hands. He slowly raised her hand as he leaned over then gently touched his lips to the back of it while keeping his eyes directly on hers. “Nobody has tickled your fancy?” Am I pouring it on too thick? God, I’m flirting with her. I am flirting with my ex-wife.
She watched him kiss her hand. What do I make of this? Charmer? Cad? The sweet side of the ex-bastard? Wait, who says he’s an ex-bastard? He may still be a bastard. “Think you’re going to get anywhere considering our history?”
He shrugged and smiled. “I never could help myself around you. It always seemed like the natural thing to do.”
“Yes, I know. I always enjoyed the attention. But did you ever appreciate how angry I was with you when I threw the vase at you?”
“Then? No. Now? Yes. But tell me, do women ever forget? Will you ever forget? Will you ever forgive?”
She looked around then sighed. “Betrayal is probably the worst. Not even betrayal in the usual sense but betrayal in the sense of neglect, of ignoring your partner. I will not be taken for granted.”
“I heard you loud and clear. I heard you when the divorce papers were served; I heard you when the negotiations between the lawyers were going on; and I heard you when the final amount of alimony was set. If I could do it all over again, I would do it altogether differently.”
He cleared his throat then softly sang, “Regrets, I’ve had a few...”
She rolled her eyes. “You seem to be in quite the mood.”
“Why not? I haven’t seen you in years. We get a divorce, then completely lose track of one another.”
“That seemed like the appropriate course of action. After a failed marriage, does a couple remain friends?”
“Maybe not. But if I’m in quite a mood, as you put it, I would attribute that to forgetting all about the vase and remembering those good moments.” He leaned back in his chair. “Believe it or not, I’m happy to see you.”
She turned in her chair and looked at the clock on the wall. “I’m happy to see you too, but I see my time here has come to an end. Duty calls.” She gathered up her things. She put her napkin and the paper cookie bag in the cup and pressed down the lid.
He looked at her quizzically. “Can I call you sometime?”
She glanced at him and stood up. She picked up her empty cup.
He stood up and motioned toward her cup. “Let me. I’ll take care of it.”
She put the cup back down on the table and reached out her hand to him. “Good to see you again.”
He looked at the extended hand a moment then shook it. Hmmm, no hug? No kiss?
She looked at his face. Do I detect disappointment? I’m going to play this cool.
“Good to see you, June.”
“Good to see you too, Bobby.”
“Shall I phone you sometime?”
He’s got to be kidding. Would that be too weird or what? “We can always mull that one over.” She gave a quick look at the clock. “Got to run.” She walked from the table and headed to the door.
He kept his eyes on her. He remembered the first time he had seen her. He knew then there was a connection between them. He didn’t know exactly what that connection would be, but he knew they were destined for more than a simple hello. And even though they had divorced, he had always wondered if things were truly over between them. Yes, it was a different era; yes, he was a different man; oh heck, they were both different people. But under different circumstances, he still felt things would have been better.
June got to the door and paused. She looked back at the table where Bobby had sat back down and was gathering up various things to throw in the garbage. He seems different. He seems more laid back, mellow. What should I do if he calls? What will I do if he calls? She remembered how he had been unrelenting in chasing her. It took her a while but finally she let go and she gave herself to him and to the moment. She surrendered as much to the man as she did to her own idea of a romantic fairy tale. Was it merely a romantic fairy tale without the maturity of dealing with a long-term relationship? What will I do if he calls?
Bobby picked up both cups and walked to the garbage and tossed them out. He turned back to the window and watched June walk down the sidewalk. How odd to run into her after all these years. What an extraordinary meeting. He smiled. What an Ex-traordinary meeting.